Lawmakers urge action on fix for concealed weapons law

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Although the governor's pre-emptive veto threat has hampered the chances for passage of a bill that would correct a constitutional flaw in Missouri's conceal and carry law, the measure's sponsor on Tuesday urged his colleagues to attempt to address the issue.

During a hearing before the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee, state Rep. Larry Crawford, R-California, said the measure is vital to protect from future lawsuits county sheriffs who begin processing citizens' applications to obtain permits to carry weapons.

"This is just cleanup, and we need to do it for our sheriffs," Crawford said. "This is not about concealed weapons. That is the law of the land."

The Missouri Supreme Court in February upheld the legislature's authority to grant conceal and carry rights to residents. However, the court said the law's funding mechanism ran afoul of the state Hancock Amendment's ban on imposing unfunded mandates on local governments.

Crawford's bill would allow sheriffs to use proceeds from the fee of up to $100 charged per application to cover their costs of issuing permits. The present statute requires that revenue to be used only for equipment and training.

The current law was enacted last fall over Gov. Bob Holden's veto. Holden, a Democrat, told reporters on Friday that he would only accept a concealed weapons measure that repealed the law or put the issue to a statewide vote. He vowed to veto any bill limited to addressing the Supreme Court's concern.

'Sour grapes'Crawford called Holden's statement "sour grapes" over losing the concealed weapons battle last year. However, Crawford said the governor's stance could erode support for enacting the legislative fix this year as House leaders may not want to dedicate time to a bill the governor will reject.

Even though the Republican-led legislature last year mustered the two-thirds majorities needed to overrule Holden, it needed the support of rural Democrats to do so. Crawford said some Democrats may be skittish about voting to override a governor of their own party during an election year.

Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat, endorses Crawford's bill and a similar measure that is awaiting debate by the Senate. Assistant attorney general Paul Wilson told the House committee that immediate action would erase the uncertainty caused by the court's opinion.

While some sheriffs have already started processing permits, others are waiting to see if lawmakers fix the problem, the course of action Nixon urged.

Because of the court's ruling, sheriffs are in a bind regardless of the action they take. If they issue permits, they are subject to taxpayer lawsuits under the Hancock Amendment. However, the concealed weapons law allows residents to sue sheriffs who refuse to issue permits.

State Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, said the legislature should act swiftly to prevent further litigation.

"It is our responsibility to get this cleared up," Lipke said.

No opposition to the measure was voiced in committee.

The bill is HB 1565.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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